Written evidence submitted by Rocket Sports Internet Limited
Written Evidence Submitted by Will Muirhead, Chief Executive of Rocket Sports Internet Limited, an investor in, and operator of, Sports Influencer Brands on Digital & Social Media Platforms
DCMS Inquiry into Influencer Culture
- There is a fine line/no line between influencers, journalists, bloggers, micro-bloggers, vloggers, podcasters and experts. On social & digital media, they are probably all better defined as news creators and they are a positive force in society and for the economy
- The local, regional, national and global targeting and reach that digital and social media platforms enable have made possible forms of work that were never possible before. These new vocations form the Creator/Influencer Economy, a cornerstone of the UK’s future growth prospects
- There is no reason for influencers (or news creators) to be exempt from the existing goals of clarity on advertising that exist on digital or more traditional platforms
- A fair deal for news providers (influencers) on social and digital networks that required Big Tech to share more of the advertising revenue they collect with those that create content for their platforms would dampen the incentive for influencers to place more subtle or undisclosed advertising (unmarked product placement, etc..) in their work and accelerate the development of this important sector
- A fair deal should not preclude an income stream for the audience, whose personal data is used to significantly improve advertising revenue
Rocket Sports Internet is an investor in sports news creators (influencers) on digital and social media platforms. It’s run by me, Will Muirhead, and I am an entrepreneur who has been building tech, media, sport and gaming businesses since 1999.
I am submitting evidence because ‘influencer’ is a very broad term that pretty much captures most digital and social media creator activity so it’s important that decisions don’t get made based on a misunderstanding of what an ‘influencer’ is.
I am also submitting evidence because I think that ensuring a fair deal between digital and social media platforms and news entities (influencers) may be a better way to approach this issue. That would significantly reduce the need for influencers/news creators to engage in product placement because a fair share of the revenue their content generates for the tech platforms would be re-distributed back to the influencer.
What is an Influencer and What is Influencer Culture?
For me, it is hard to distinguish between an ‘influencer’ and a ‘news creator’. Our brands tend to focus on particular interest groups (EG – fans of Liverpool Football Club or English-speaking fans of Spanish Football) and they exist at the pleasure of the communities whose views they seek to reflect and/or influence.
Just like a traditional newspaper (but focused on special interests).
I don’t see a lot of difference between that position and any other ‘influencer’ on digital or social media. A politics journalist is an influencer. A fashion blogger is an influencer. A travel photojournalist on Instagram is an influencer.
And I don’t see a lot of difference between those roles and the roles of traditional journalists that report on politics, travel, sport, fashion, entertainment, gardening and other special interests for conventional newspapers.
‘Influencer Culture’, in my view, is a way of describing the new decentralised news creator community in which experts, specialists or people that are passionate about a particular subject matter create content that influences or reflects the views of their target communities.
It’s culturally a positive phenomenon that adds plurality and expertise to news creation, where individuals can freely express their opinions and experts are able to reach global (or highly targeted) audiences without the traditional need to channel their content through conventional media gateways.
The bigger issue that I see is not whether the news creators (influencers) are properly disclosing their advertisements or not, but whether enough of the income their content (and the audience data) generates for the likes of Facebook or Google is finding its way back to the creators (or the audience).
Has ‘influencing’ Impacted Popular Culture?
The Influencer Economy can also be described as the Creator Economy or the Passion Economy and it is a vital part of the future of society.
Digital and social media platforms have enabled forms of work that we’ve never seen before: podcaster, newsletter writer, virtual teacher, virtual coach, video creator, Instagrammer and so forth.
All of these jobs fall under the ‘Influencer’ banner and all of these jobs are essential parts of the future economy. ‘Influencing’ has not just impacted popular culture, but it is also forming a cornerstone of the UK’s future growth prospects.
“For a more extensive model of how human capital can give rise to new industries, look to China. On the microblogging site Weibo, for instance, users sell content such as Q&As, exclusive chat groups, and invite-only live streams through memberships or a la carte purchases. This has spawned a wave of non-traditional influencers—financial advisors, bloggers, and professors—beyond typical beauty and fashion tastemakers.”
Is it right that Influencers are Predominantly Associated with Advertising & Consumerism?
The Influencer label is broad and whilst some (or many) of the early movers may well have been in the fashion, beauty, lifestyle and gaming communities (which are often targeted as being frivolous), the mechanics that sit behind the Influencer Economy are the same for all news creators or non-traditional influencers.
I think it would be more appropriate to say that ‘influencers (news creators) are adept at leveraging emerging and prevailing technology to create new value’ than it would to say that ‘influencers are predominantly associated with advertising and consumerism’.
Society should encourage more influencers to create more and varied content and to experiment with more and varied ways to commercialise that content – through advertising, sponsorship, subscriptions, micro-payments and so forth – than to try to belittle the genre of content being created or the motives of the individuals creating that content.
Influencers/Creators/Passion Economy Workers are entrepreneurs forging careers that didn’t exist before, creating products and services that are fulfilling a seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge and entertainment from a global audience.
How are Tech Companies Encouraging or Disrupting Influencing?
Without Big Tech’s incredible ingenuity, much of the Creator Economy wouldn’t exist at all.
There are also many good, creator-specific, initiatives undertaken by Big Tech, such as Facebook’s introduction of tools that make it easy for creators to mark paid-for content as sponsored or Google’s original commitment to pay creators 55% of the ad-revenue generated from their content served on YouTube.
Having said that, it is also obvious that not enough of the advertising revenue generated by consumption of Creator Economy content is finding its way back to the creators themselves.
Twitter does not share any of its revenue with its creators.
Facebook requires creators to jump through numerous hoops in order to qualify for monetisation programmes, and even then, those privileges can (and often are) withdrawn for mistaken accusations of alleged infringements of the Facebook ‘Community Standards’ (Facebook acknowledges a lot of the alleged infringements are actually ‘automated process errors’ – or – mistaken removals of monetisation privileges).
Google has pretty much become the nation’s front page, when it comes to news content, without paying anything for the content that is used to create that front page.
Overall, there is a lot more that Big Tech could do to encourage good influencer activity and, for me, it would start with a re-evaluation of how the revenue generated by Big Tech from influencer/news creator content is shared with creators, as has been pioneered in Australia.
How aware are Users of the Arrangements between Influencers and Advertisers?
I think users are as aware of the arrangements between influencers and advertisers as television and film audiences are aware of product placements.
The current requirements for creators to label sponsored content are fair and reasonable.
The current distribution of digital advertising revenue generated in the UK is not fair and reasonable.
If there were a requirement for Big Tech to distribute more of the advertising revenue they receive to influencers/news creators, we would see an acceleration in the development of the UK’s Creator Economy and a dampening of any nefarious edge-cases of undisclosed content sponsorship.